Lean Management: No Posers Allowed!

A lot of executives have heard about Lean management and would like to try it – seems like a good idea.

(Even the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service thinks Lean is a good idea!)

Are you ready to Rock?

For those who have heard of Lean, they usually think of exercises like 5S or Kaizen blitz. These are tools that let people sample the Lean approach and gain some quick wins – without making a real commitment. Unit managers can dip a toe in the water while still reporting to the C-Executives that, “Yes, we’re doing Lean!”

But running a couple of workshops and re-organizing the supply closet – then declaring yourself a Lean shop – is like learning to play three chords on a guitar and declaring yourself a rock star.

Just because you can play a little doesn’t mean that you are ready to live like a rock star – Rock and Roll is a lifestyle, man! No posers allowed.

Live Below the Waterline

Peter Hines and his co-authors, in the book Staying Lean, employ the (overused and tired, yet still appropriate) Iceberg metaphor to describe what really drives successful and sustainable Lean adoption.

In this interpretation of the Iceberg you’ll find the obvious, visible aspects of Lean above the waterline:

  • Technologies, Tools & Techniques
  • Processes

But, as always, the centre of gravity – and the aspects of Lean that will ultimately determine the long term success of the initiative – lies hidden below the waterline:

  • Strategy & Alignment
  • Leadership
  • Behaviour & Engagement

Enough about Lean

“But isn’t Lean supposed to be about focusing our efforts on the customer, eliminating waste, and continually improving our processes?”

Yes.

Now, this is where we stop talking about Lean for a minute.

It doesn’t matter what approach to managing your business you choose, if you don’t have those items that are “below the waterline” –

Strategy & Alignment, Leadership, Behaviour & Engagement – working, it doesn’t matter what approach you use. It won’t last, and you will soon be off chasing the next ‘flavor of the month’.

And that next approach will probably offer some nice short-term gains that are, again, not sustained. Rinse. Repeat.

Back to Lean.

Given that, couldn’t you just focus on those three items and forget about Lean? Yes, absolutely. But those three bullets are so difficult for managers to get right that often an external framework is useful to guide their behaviours and actions.

Note – we are not talking about “employee” behaviours and actions.

Unfortunately, that is the mindset that many managers take when they start to explore Lean as an approach to guiding the activities in their organization. But it’s not about “them”. It’s about “you”.

With that in mind, I would like to talk about the single most important tool that a manager has to support a successful Lean rollout.

Genchi Genbutsu

Genchi genbutsu is Japanese for “go and see for yourself”, often referred to in North America as going gemba.

This is a simple concept that can be further simplified for the North American manager: “Get out of your office!”

You will never get the real story sitting at your desk. Reports will be filtered for any number of reasons – most emerging directly from CYA issues.1

This is not a “take charge” event. Your goal is to observe and ask appropriate questions; perhaps the most important – and least employed – tool that a manager has.

Stop making excuses. You are not too busy. You want to call yourself a leader? Get out of your office and go talk to your people. Every day. Nothing that you do is more important than this.

Scratching the Surface

This Lean project? It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.

Obviously, we are just scratching the surface of these topics, but the resources available are vast. Some are free, some not. The most important thing?

First, you have to care.


1CYA

‘Stones’ Photo Credit: Jonathan Bayer via Compfight cc
‘Office Door’ Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

Kotter’s 8 Steps to Change: More Relevant Than Ever

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.
– John Wooden

In 1996, John Kotter published Leading Change, which quickly became the seminal work in the change management space.

15 years later—an eon in the Internet time-space to which we have become accustomed—and Leading Change is still the work that most change management professionals will point to when asked “how to do it.” There have been some other blips on the radar in the change management discussion, most notably the high-intensity spotlight wielded by the Heath Bros, Chip and Dan, in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Yet everyone keeps coming back to Mr. Kotter. (welcome back!)

leading-change-kotterWhy? Because effecting change—real change—transformative change—is hard. Really hard.

And The Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change that Kotter spelled out in Leading Change has been proven to work better than most anything else when appropriately implemented. The Eight Steps give organizational leader/managers a clear map to follow when most are wandering in the dark as they face the challenges of non-linear acceleration of change as we move into the 21st century.

But this post is not intended to re-hash every aspect of the Eight Steps. Rather, I wanted to remind everyone how unique it is in this “management” space to have a book that has held up so well over time. So many flavour-of-the-week approaches to managing an organization have come and gone in the last fifteen years that we could, and have, fill a library with them.

The other, really unusual aspect of Leading Change as a cornerstone work, is that its relevance has only increased since publication. Business-as-usual did not pass this book by; it is virtually required reading for anyone who leads an organization today.

The Eight Step Process

For those who are not familiar with Kotter’s work, here is a list of his Eight Steps, with some recent comments that he has made on those issues that he finds to be critical for success (I’ll include a link to these comments when/if it becomes publicly available):

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

  • This is the absolute starting point.
  • You must appeal to both the intellectual AND the emotional.
  • Repeatedly screaming at people “Your platform is burning, you are going to die!” does not work.
    • Threats lose their value.
    • It results in a demoralized workforce.
    • Talent leaves as soon as there is a good out.

2. Create a Guiding Coalition

  • If you want transformational change, you must create transformational leadership.
  • If you want transformational leadership, hierarchical-command/control structures will not work.
    • Good managers, utilizing good policies and practices, can create great results—but they cannot create transformational change.
  • Note the use of the term Coalition: if you want transformational leadership, this must represent a broad cross-section of people from all levels of the organization.
    • people who have their hearts in it
    • people who will provide leadership
    • people who will attack barriers
    • people who will get others on board
  • If you don’t do this right, it will effect everything else that follows.

3. Develop a Vision and Strategy

4. Communicate the Change Vision

  • It’s not likely that you will under-communicate a little bit; you will probably under-communicate 10x to 100x too much. And your initiative, no matter how well planned, will fail.

5. Empower Broad-Based Action

  • Give away authority. The hierarchy must give way to the network.

6. Generate Short-Term Wins

  • Make the wins real and they will be powerful.
  • If people don’t see results, cynicism will quickly follow.

7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change

  • Never let up!
    • You must maintain the urgency.
    • If you hand your initiative off to a change management “department” or “committee” — you will fail.
    • Don’t get discouraged, it might require cycling back and trying new things.
    • Don’t let your “command and control” genes take over.
  • It’s like tending a fire, you can’t start it and walk away.

8. Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

  • You don’t “change your culture” to create transformation.
  • It’s the reverse, if you want to create a culture change then go through the other seven steps — then, after success has been created, the outcome will be a change in the culture!

Management v. Leadership

I think it’s safe to say that we are all exhausted with the manager or leader debate. I’ll not waste too much time on that. However, a couple of quotes from Kotter that make it very clear; change management is a task for leaders.

Managers can define projects, develop measures, and monitor systems—they cannot create change.

“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.”

“…linking the discussion back to the engine that drives change—leadership—and in showing how a purely managerial mindset inevitably fails, regardless of the quality of people involved.”

Change Leadership

So, the question that spins out of all of this focus on leadership:

Is it time to change the term “change management”?

Would the process be more accurately conveyed if we started referring to it as “change leadership”?

Read the Book

Again, if you haven’t read Leading Change, and you have any interest in creating lasting change in an organizational environment, you really should pick up a copy.

Not only do you stand to gain some critical knowledge, I think you will be shocked at the prescience of this 15 year-old book.

updated 11 October 2011 – added a link to the recent Kotter webinar


note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 5 October 2011

7 Steps to Straightforward Organizational Design

Every organization – regardless of size, age, complexity, or mission – will at some point face a changing landscape that will result in new and unique challenges.  Some organizations will be structured in such a way that they can easily adapt to the new realities and requirements of their situation.  Most won’t.

No organization is static.

Organizations will, from time to time, require re-design, re-alignment, or re-habilitation.

This is where the many challenges of Organization Design become apparent.  Organizations are made up of people, and where people are involved the results will be complex and messy.  Modern managers have enough mess and complexity to handle in their day-to-day existence; they aren’t on the lookout for more.  Sadly, we can’t bring simplicity to their organization without also removing all of the people.

We also can’t provide a comprehensive organizational design course in the context of a company blog.

What we can offer are some guideposts to help you, the manager, keep the goal in sight as you work through the complexities of this process.

The 7 Fundamentals

  1. Involve employees and key stakeholders in the design process:  Use the management team as the consultative group to work through acceptable options.
  2. Form follows function:  Focus on identifying the core functions.  Everything else is likely a waste of time and energy.  Efficient structures will emerge.
  3. Integration versus differentiation:  Identify logical clusters of related functions and activities – strike a balance between service delivery and functional expert roles.
  4. Trade off between hierarchical versus flat structures:  Focus on effective horizontal management practices while framing boundary spanning mechanisms.
  5. Identify clear roles and responsibilities:  The result will be increased functional leadership capacity and subject matter expert knowledge.
  6. Embrace flexibility and an ability to adapt with change:  Recognize that both formal and informal networks will always result – acknowledge this and integrate in a networked organizational structure.
  7. Provide for employee career development:  The intent is not to organize around individuals.  However, the recruitment and retention challenge must be recognized, and opportunities for career development and professional growth must be provided to all.

So, here are seven basic tenets – should there be eight, nine, or ten?  More?  I’m interested in your feedback; would you remove or modify any of these?  Would you like to add others?  Let us know in the comments.


note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 28 September 2010

Jargon Monoxide

Effective communication skills.

The Harvard Business Review says, “Effective communication is a key driver for achieving desired results on a personal or business level.”

So why is this so common:

Together, we will leverage our assets to deliver the strategic value that our stakeholders expect and deserve as we create synergistic value add via the integration of complex systems to facilitate collaboration across mission critical projects in order to best provide enhanced innovation, efficiency, productivity, retention, and engagement.

Suffocating in the Jargon Monoxide

I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Bob Sutton, author of – among many great books and articles – The No  Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss.  He recently pointed out a term that was used in one of his classes by Polly LeBarre, former editor at Fast Company:  Jargon Monoxide.

It’s one of those, “boy, I wish I had thought of that” terms.

Jargon

Some highly technical fields require special terms and a unique language to provide for proper communication between the practitioners – medical terminology is the most familiar example for many of us.

But the business of management and leadership rarely requires special terminology or language, though that doesn’t seem to reduce the mind-crippling ramblings of business writers, executives, and a great many management consultants.

We “communicate” in platitudes and double-speak corporatese. Words and phrases are strung together which, to the uninitiated, appear to be completely absent in meaning – if not intentionally misleading.

Carbon Monoxide

A poisonous gas that is invisible, odourless, and tasteless, and is highly toxic to humans and animals.

It is also contributes significantly to urban pollution.

Made to Stick

Jargon Monoxide, it really grabbed me the first time I heard it, and – as I think about it – I believe it resonates really well with the principles described by the Heath brothers in Made to Stick.

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

A few of my favourite examples

  • Value add
  • White board [as a verb]
  • Synergies
  • Transitioning
  • Boiling the ocean
  • Human Capital
  • Dialogue [as a verb]

Speak Human

So why do we do it? All of us will, in spite of our best intentions, engage in some terrible business language.  But why?

I will reference and paraphrase Dr. Sutton again:  In many business environments people are recognized and rewarded for saying smart things rather than doing smart things. And, as the carousel of promotion, re-assignment, and re-organization spins faster and faster, few people are in one position long enough that they have to live with the repercussions of their decisions.

And so, we fall back on the popular phrase of the day to impress the supervisors and colleagues who will be writing up our next performance evaluation with the deep and thorough comprehension that we have developed in the face of a complex environment.

The ability of an organization to maximize achievements is not enhanced by leveraging its core competencies via the verbal and/or written modality, so, at the end of the day, the optics of the situation are not favourable in light of the key performance indicators.

Actually, people perform best when communications are clear, concise, and direct.

What are your favourite examples of Jargon Monoxide?  Let us know in the comments.


note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 23 December 2011